Written by Zach Okamura, AmeriCorps member serving on the Microsoft Team at Ocala STEAM Academy

On my first day at Ocala STEAM Academy I was ecstatic to see a sea of students that I would be advocating for and encouraging throughout the year. I was excited about all the change I was going to effect this year and ready to make a huge and immediate impact on the lives of students at Ocala. As I began to grapple with the enormity of the problems our students face in receiving an education, ranging from low math and English literacy to troubles at home, I became discouraged. But I soon realized that the kind of change I want to make through City Year has to start somewhere.

It starts with my most favorite of City Year’s power tools, Power Greeting. Power Greeting is the use of callbacks and cheers by our team to greet students when they arrive at school each morning to start the day off strong. When we initially started our Power Greetings students felt uncomfortable and tried to avoid us. But slowly, with each passing week, more and more students started to participate. With every student that joins us, I know that City Year is making school a fun and positive learning environment for all of our students.

It starts with our Expanded Learning Time Program. In our afterschool program we try to increase student learning after a full school day in addition to providing other academic support. It has been a true challenge to craft lesson plans and manage a classroom, but seeing my students leave every day with a little more knowledge or confidence in what they learned in school that day makes all the difference. As our students engage more in learning with us we know that we’re developing in them a deeper understanding about the world.

It starts with our Service Days. We recently partnered with SAP to do beautify a school campus and construct an outdoor classroom for student use. We spent the entire day with SAP volunteers and City Year staff painting succulent pots for teachers, building and staining the benches for the outdoor classroom, and constructing the chalkboard and stage. Working alongside the students was especially gratifying as we got the opportunity to build those personal relationships and help them beautify their own school. When I looked around at our completed classroom and the students that helped build it, I knew that we felt a sense of accomplishment in physically transforming the school for the better.

Working at City Year provides such a breadth of challenge and opportunities to make a difference in America’s underserved schools. The work we have done so far is just the beginning and each bit of effort helps better the lives of the students we serve. Changing the education system won’t happen overnight, but with a bit of patience and perseverance it’s possible. To be that change you wish to see in the world, you have to start somewhere.

For me, it starts here.

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